y wife and I took most of our kids to the first showing of The Hobbit at our local theater Friday morning. All but one of us was already a fanatically patriotic citizen of the Shire long before this movie, and all of us enjoyed the film quite a bit. This will not be the case for every Tolkien fan: I suspect the purists will be upset by the ways in which the films deviate from the book.
I, however, am not a purist. The Hobbit is a nearly perfect book from a literary point of view. That is no surprise, given the fact that it comes from one of the greatest literary minds of the 20th Century. But, books and films are different types of story-telling vessels and Peter Jackson was right in adapting the story to the newer medium. And he did so as someone who truly loved the original, who respected his source material, and who as a general rule carved it with the grain and not against it in his attempt to shape it into the needs of a big budget film trilogy.
Two departures from the book stand out to me as particularly helpful. First, the ‘geo-politics’ of middle earth, which come to a climax in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, are used to shed light on the prequel. The story of the dragon Smaug, his war on the dwarves, and the otherwise unexplained intensity of Gandalf’s interest in the affair are resolved in the film version by treating them as a kind of proxy battle in the ‘cold war’ between the forces of Mordor and those of the free West. The ancient battle, Gandalf believes, is not over, but temporarily dormant, like the illusion of peace between World War I (in which Tolkien served) and World War II (during which the Lord of the Ringswas written). The story of the Hobbit occurs between the two great wars, just as the actual book, The Hobbit, was written between two Great Wars. And Jackson highlights one particular theme of the interwar period in his cinematic version – the philosophic clash between moral clarity on the one hand, and appeasement and complacency on the other.
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